Dombey and Son
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been saying about Paris?'
Edith raised her eyebrows with an air of weariness; and passing the
folding-doors which were thrown open to display the suite of rooms in
their new and handsome garniture, and barely glancing at them as she
passed, sat down by Florence.
'My dear Dombey,' said Mrs Skewton, 'how charmingly these people
have carried out every idea that we hinted. They have made a perfect
palace of the house, positively.'
'It is handsome,' said Mr Dombey, looking round. 'I directed that
no expense should be spared; and all that money could do, has been
done, I believe.'
'And what can it not do, dear Dombey?' observed Cleopatra.
'It is powerful, Madam,' said Mr Dombey.
He looked in his solemn way towards his wife, but not a word said
'I hope, Mrs Dombey,' addressing her after a moment's silence, with
especial distinctness; 'that these alterations meet with your
'They are as handsome as they can be,' she returned, with haughty
carelessness. 'They should be so, of' course. And I suppose they are.'
An expression of scorn was habitual to the proud face, and seemed
inseparable from it; but the contempt with which it received any
appeal to admiration, respect, or consideration on the ground of his
riches, no matter how slight or ordinary in itself, was a new and
different expression, unequalled in intensity by any other of which it
was capable. Whether Mr Dombey, wrapped in his own greatness, was at
all aware of this, or no, there had not been wanting opportunities
already for his complete enlightenment; and at that moment it might
have been effected by the one glance of the dark eye that lighted on
him, after it had rapidly and scornfully surveyed the theme of his
self-glorification. He might have read in that one glance that nothing
that his wealth could do, though it were increased ten thousand fold,
could win him for its own sake, one look of softened recognition from
the defiant woman, linked to him, but arrayed with her whole soul
against him. He might have read in that one glance that even for its
sordid and mercenary influence upon herself, she spurned it, while she
claimed its utmost power as her right, her bargain - as the base and
worthless recompense for which she had become his wife. He might have
read in it that, ever baring her own head for the lightning of her own
contempt and pride to strike, the most innocent allusion to the power
of his riches degraded her anew, sunk her deeper in her own respect,
and made the blight and waste within her more complete.
But dinner was announced, and Mr Dombey led down Cleopatra; Edith
and his daughter following. Sweeping past the gold and silver
demonstration on the sideboard as if it were heaped-up dirt, and
deigning to bestow no look upon the elegancies around her, she took
her place at his board for the first time, and sat, like a statue, at
Mr Dombey, being a good deal in the statue way himself, was well
enough pleased to see his handsome wife immovable and proud and cold.
Her deportment being always elegant and graceful, this as a general
behaviour was agreeable and congenial to him. Presiding, therefore,
with his accustomed dignity, and not at all reflecting on his wife by
any warmth or hilarity of his own, he performed his share of the
honours of the table with a cool satisfaction; and the installation
dinner, though not regarded downstairs as a great success, or very
promising beginning, passed oil, above, in a sufficiently polite,
genteel, and frosty manner.
Soon after tea' Mrs Skewton, who affected to be quite overcome and
worn Out by her emotions of happiness, arising in the contemplation of
her dear child united to the man of her heart, but who, there is
reason to suppose, found this family party somewhat dull, as she
yawned for one hour continually behind her fan, retired to bed. Edith,
also, silently withdrew and came back' no more. Thus, it happened that
Florence, who had been upstairs to have some conversation with
Diogenes, returning to the drawing-room with her little work-basket,
found no one there but her father, who was walking to and fro, in
'I beg your pardon. Shall I go away, Papa?' said Florence faintly,
hesitating at the door.
'No,' returned Mr Dombey, looking round over his shoulder; you can
come and go here, Florence, as you please. This is not my private
Florence entered, and sat down at a distant little table with her
work: finding herself for the first time in her life - for the very
first time within her memory from her infancy to that hour - alone
with her father, as his companion. She, his natural companion, his
only child, who in her lonely life and grief had known the suffering
of a breaking heart; who, in her rejected love, had never breathed his
name to God at night, but with a tearful blessing, heavier on him than
a curse; who had prayed to die young, so she might only die in his
arms; who had, all through, repaid the agony of slight and coldness,
and dislike, with patient unexacting love, excusing him, and pleading
for him, like his better angel!
She trembled, and her eyes were dim. His figure seemed to grow in
height and bulk before her as he paced the room: now it was all
blurred and indistinct; now clear again, and plain; and now she seemed
to think that this had happened, just the same, a multitude of years
ago. She yearned towards him, and yet shrunk from his approach.
Unnatural emotion in a child, innocent of wrong! Unnatural the hand
that had directed the sharp plough, which furrowed up her gentle
nature for the sowing of its seeds!
Bent upon not distressing or offending him by her distress,
Florence controlled herself, and sat quietly at her work. After a few
more turns across and across the room, he left off pacing it; and
withdrawing into a shadowy corner at some distance, where there was an
easy chair, covered his head with a handkerchief, and composed himself
It was enough for Florence to sit there watching him; turning her
eyes towards his chair from time to time; watching him with her
thoughts, when her face was intent upon her work; and sorrowfully glad
to think that he could sleep, while she was there, and that he was not
made restless by her strange and long-forbidden presence.
What would have been her thoughts if she had known that he was
steadily regarding her; that the veil upon his face, by accident or by
design, was so adjusted that his sight was free, and that itnever
wandered from her face face an instant That when she looked towards
him' In the obscure dark corner, her speaking eyes, more earnest and
pathetic in their voiceless speech than all the orators of all the
world, and impeaching him more nearly in their mute address, met his,
and did not know it! That when she bent her head again over her work,
he drew his breath more easily, but with the same attention looked
upon her still - upon her white brow and her falling hair, and busy
hands; and once attracted, seemed to have no power to turn his eyes
And what were his thoughts meanwhile? With what emotions did he
prolong the attentive gaze covertly directed on his unknown daughter?
Was there reproach to him in the quiet figure and the mild eyes? Had
he begun to her disregarded claims and did they touch him home at
last, and waken him to some sense of his cruel injustice?
There are yielding moments in the lives of the sternest and
harshest men, though such men often keep their secret well. The sight
ofher in her beauty, almost changed into a woman without his
knowledge, may have struck out some such moments even In his life of
pride. Some passing thought that he had had a happy home within his
reach-had had a household spirit bending at has feet - had overlooked
it in his stiffnecked sullen arrogance, and wandered away and lost
himself, may have engendered them. Some simple eloquence distinctly
heard, though only uttered in her eyes, unconscious that he read them'
as'By the death-beds I have tended, by the childhood I have suffered,
by our meeting in this dreary house at midnight, by the cry wrung from
me in the anguish of my heart, oh, father, turn to me and seek a
refuge in my love before it is too late!' may have arrested them.
Meaner and lower thoughts, as that his dead boy was now superseded by
new ties, and he could forgive the having been supplanted in his
affection, may have occasioned them. The mere association of her as an
ornament, with all the ornament and pomp about him, may have been
sufficient. But as he looked, he softened to her, more and more. As he
looked, she became blended with the child he had loved, and he could
hardly separate the two. As he looked, he saw her for an instant by a
clearer and a brighter light, not bending over that child's pillow as
his rival - monstrous thought - but as the spirit of his home, and in
the action tending himself no less, as he sat once more with his
bowed-down head upon his hand at the foot of the little bed. He felt
inclined to speak to her, and call her to him. The words 'Florence,
come here!' were rising to his lips - but slowly and with difficulty,
they were so very strange - when they were checked and stifled by a
footstep on the stair.
It was his wife's. She had exchanged her dinner dress for a loose
robe, and unbound her hair, which fell freely about her neck. But this
was not the change in her that startled him.
'Florence, dear,' she said, 'I have been looking for you
As she sat down by the side of Florence, she stooped and kissed her
hand. He hardly knew his wife. She was so changed. It was not merely
that her smile was new to him - though that he had never seen; but her
manner, the tone of her voice, the light of her eyes, the interest,
and confidence, and winning wish to please, expressed in all-this was
'Softly, dear Mama. Papa is asleep.'
It was Edith now. She looked towards the corner where he was, and
he knew that face and manner very well.
'I scarcely thought you could be here, Florence.'
Again, how altered and how softened, in an instant!
'I left here early,' pursued Edith, 'purposely to sit upstairs and
talk with you. But, going to your room, I found my bird was flown, and
I have been waiting there ever since, expecting its return.
If it had been a bird, indeed, she could not have taken it more
tenderly and gently to her breast, than she did Florence.